By Jed Horowitz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stepped up his state budget battle with Democrats by calling for a special session of the legislature on Monday to lecture his opponents on the need for middle-class tax relief.
The state's senate and assembly, both of which are controlled by Democrats, traditionally are in recess in July and August.
The move follows the Republican governor's signing of a $31.7 billion state budget on Friday that stripped out $361 million passed by the legislature for items including increases in legal services for the poor and in college tuition aid for low-income students.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said she has informed members of the governor's letter but would not comment on whether she planned to attend the special session.
"This much is clear," the spokesman wrote in an email. "The governor just vetoed tax relief for the working poor and has repeatedly opposed property tax relief for the middle-class amid his manic zeal to protect tax cuts for the mega-rich."
Senate President Steve Sweeney issued a statement over the weekend calling the first-term Republican governor's move "political theater" and saying that even if he got his way no tax breaks would be effective until 2013.
"While the last thing anyone wants in the middle of a heat wave is hot air coming from Trenton, we will be there," Sweeney said.
Christie has said that the Democratic budget plan will impose an $800 million tax hike on New Jersey residents.
His budget is the same size as the one he vetoed from lawmakers, but he said he would divert some of the appropriations they sought to build the state's surplus.
Christie said his budget calls for a $1 billion payment to the state's pension system and maintains a surplus in state coffers of more than $600 million.
In his letter to Sweeney and Oliver, Christie said he wants to press his objections in the special session to bills that "betray ... numerous commitments from legislative Democrats not to raise taxes."
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Vicki Allen)